Married couples in California have the right to receive at least a portion of the property the spouse owns up on that spouse’s death. The California inheritance laws are a little more complicated than those in other states because California has what are known as community property laws. These laws divide property a couple owns into community and separate property. What this means for spouses is that you have a right to inherit specific kinds of property if your spouse dies. Let’s take a look at some examples. The following rules apply only when the decedent did not create a valid will or trust to dispose of the assets as set forth in those documents.
Your spouse dies leaving behind no children.
In this situation a surviving spouse has the right to inherit some of the property left behind by the deceased spouse. This includes community property and separate property. Because there are no children to inherit, all the community property passes to the surviving spouse. The separate property of the deceased spouse is divided one-half to the surviving spouse and one-half to the deceased spouse’s heirs at law.
Your spouse dies and leaves behind two children.
In this situation the surviving spouse would still inherit the community property but would not inherit all of the separate property. Here, the surviving spouse and both children would each inherit one third of the separate property. The one third-two third division is for situations where there are two or more children. When there is only one child, it is a 50-50 split between spouse and child.
You and your spouse develop estate plans.
Of coarse, all of these rules assume that you and your spouse have done nothing in the way of estate planning. You can modify almost any inheritance rights you wish by developing a plan appropriate to your situation and desires.